Patricia M. DeMarco
Days and days of rain and clouded skies succeed an early snowfall. The frozen ground deflects water into drains and stream beds winding their way down the hillsides of this tree-covered neighborhood. Here most of the houses are smaller than the overarching canopy and branches interlace across property boundaries. Many neighbors also interconnect at this season, for parties, for informal invitations for coffee or greetings. The interconnectedness does not end with the dreary weather. The evening is brightened with holiday lights in windows and in lighted garden and house displays.
For the deciduous trees and the plants of this biome, this is the time for rest. The sap retreats to the depths of the ground, secure in holding to the Earth until the warmth of Spring signals the time to rise and fill the budding leaves with life-giving nutrients from the depths of the ground. If the leaf fall of the previous season rests on the ground to cover and protect and later to decay and return the elements back to the ground, the cycle is complete enriching the soil with each year.
In these short days and long evenings of Winter, there is time for reflection, for writing, and laying down thread in a long-delayed quilt. For me, it is a miracle to see this winter after a long nine months of battle with breast cancer. Thankfully, the scourge of this disease has been set at bay one more time, making these Winter days free of pain, free of drugs, free of exhaustion, so much more precious. I think of all the afternoons spent lying on the garden settee or on the grass, gazing through the interlaced branches of the red oak Elders above me, and feeling the thrum of life running from the ground to the utmost edges of their spreading leaves. Trees full of life force, supporting endless numbers of insects, visited by birds and squirrels and chipmunks, included me in their domain. I opened my heart to their healing energy and felt myself a part of this miracle of the living Earth. Healing is a state of mind. The technology of medicines and surgery deal with the mutiny of cancer cell growth, but the battle to overcome and to survive takes place in the mental space that recognizes the force of will to live.
I realize that these elder specimens have witnessed such great changes in the world around them. They have stood here for more than a century, as seedlings when this area was a dairy farm, growing up amid the smoke-filled air and volatile emissions from the height of the steel mills operating over the hill along the Monongahela River. They witnessed the change from farmland to houses, fortunate that trees were valued in the landscape and were not bulldozed into flat acres when the houses were built. Now, many are experiencing with us the strange weather patterns of a warming planet, driven by the very emissions that stunted their growth in the decades of the Industrial Revolution. Some have fallen to storms and high winds. Some have fallen to drought and strangulation from invasive ivy. Others fell from boring insect invaders. These two red oaks stand as sentinels, guardians at the top of the hill, giving testament to the resilience and stability of the living Earth.
With great humility, I see them now as mentors and models of a way forward. There is no path to a sustainable future that does not include protection for the natural world, the wisdom of ages stored in their collective interconnectedness. It is only humans who are cut apart from the life force of the Earth. We live under the delusion that our technology is our salvation, that human knowledge can outwit the changes we have wrought upon ourselves. It is not so. It is only by embracing the force of the natural world that humans will survive and thrive. The harmony of Natural law has evolved over many millions of years, fine-tuned to the ways each part of the biome affects another, how each small piece contributes to the whole. We see daily reports of how the insects are declining worldwide, how coral reefs have bleached to dead skeletons. With increasing numbness, we hear of the extinction of creatures and plants, of whole ecosystems. We are seeing the harbingers of our own fate. The preservation of the living Earth is our only hope. We must recognize that humans are only a part of the natural world, intimately dependent upon the health of the living things around us. We thrive when the butterflies and birds are healthy. We flourish when the songs of frogs fill the summer night.
It is my hope for the coming year that I can resume my quest for our communities and our nation to transition to a civilization living in harmony with Nature. I am thankful for the chance to be a part of this great web of life for one more year.